United Nations Action on Decolonisation Resolutions
20 November 2009
OTR has recently completed its analysis of the vote in the United Nations Special Political and Decolonisation Committee (Fourth Committee) which adopted its 2009 resolutions on the remaining 16 non self-governing territories last month. Whilst a number of the resolutions were approved by consensus, the usual vote was required on others, as several of the countries which administer or occupy territories, or those which have sovereignty disputes over territories, vote against or abstain from specific resolutions.
In the case of the United Kingdom (UK), the usual explanation was given for their position, even as the explanation is inconsistent with its responsibilities under the United Nations Charter. France and the United States (US), however, provide no insight at the Fourth Committee on their negative votes.
In the case of the U.S., the vote by the Obama Administration was strikingly similar to that of the Bush Administration – in fact, it was identical. It appears that the policy’ ‘change’ has not yet filtered down to the issue of decolonisation of the remaining territories – an issue which apparently is of a lesser priority. The recent legislation authorizing U.S. support for a self-determination process for the U.S.-administered territories recently adopted by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources should hopefully serve to stimulate some new thinking on this matter.
OTR offers the following excerpts from the United Nations press release, with substantive commentary in italics.
Draft resolution I, on information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the Charter of the United Nations was approved by a recorded vote of 140 in favour to none against, with 4 abstentions (France, Israel, United Kingdom, United States).
Explaining his position after the vote, the representative of the United Kingdom said that, as in previous years, his delegation had abstained. The Government did not take issue with the resolution’s main objective, and continued to meet its obligations in that regard. His Government believed, however, that a decision as to whether a Non-Self-Governing Territory had reached a level of self-government was ultimately for the government of the Territory and the administering Power concerned, and not the General Assembly.
Taking up draft resolution II, on economic and other activities which affect the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the Committee approved the text by a recorded vote of 146 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 2 abstentions (France, United Kingdom)
Speaking after the vote, the representative of Argentina said the applicability of the resolution in a given Territory depended on whether the right to self-determination was applicable to that Territory. Thus, it was relevant to bear in mind that certain General Assembly resolutions noted that, in cases where there was a sovereignty dispute, such as in the Malvinas Islands, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding maritime areas, a negotiated solution was the only path to resolving the dispute, and not self-determination. The resolution, therefore, was not applicable to the Malvinas Islands and the surrounding archipelagic areas. The situation prevailing in this archipelago, belonging to the national territory of a country, resulted in the unilateral exploitation by the United Kingdom of the natural resources of the Malvinas Islands and surrounding marine areas. That ran counter to the Assembly’s decisions in that field, and was a brazen violation.
The representative of the United Kingdom said that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands was well-known, as the United Kingdom had expressed in the right of reply in the general debate on decolonization. There was no doubt about that Territory’s sovereignty and there could be no negotiation about those issues unless and until such time as the islanders so wished.
(Editor's Note: The Falklands Islands and the Malvinas are different names for the same island...)
The Committee then approved draft resolution III on implementation of the (Decolonisation) Declaration by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations by a recorded vote of 98 in favour to none against, with 50 abstentions.
Speaking in explanation of vote on behalf of the European Union, Sweden’s representative reaffirmed support for the specialized agencies of the United Nations in their efforts, particularly those in the technical and educational fields. The Union favoured careful compliance with those agencies’ statutes. It had therefore abstained from the vote. The U.S. did not speak on this resolution, but did address the same issue during its consideration by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last August. Accordingly, OTR reported in August that:
“The objections of the various member states to the resolution on assistance to the territories from the UN system are virtually identical to their objections for over a decade. Thus, the US representative continues to articulate to ECOSOC that any assistance to, or participation in, UN programmes for the non self-governing territories must be confirmed by the UN member State which controls the foreign relations of the territories concerned. This is a but a re-statement of the practice which is already in place, and has always been a requirement of the rules of procedure of any UN agency which provides for assistance or participation for these territories. The resolution, even in its present form, makes this clear.
A second objection by the US representative suggests that the resolution somehow “infringes upon” the internal constitutional arrangements of the United States. Yet, the longstanding US practice provides the delegation of authority to the territories, on a case by case basis, to participate in international organisations and activities.
In virtually all cases, it is only the state which controls the international relations of the territory which can make a request for the affiliation of the territory in any given UN body. If the delegation of authority is freely given by the administering power to the territory to participate in a given international organisation or activity, how can it be, at the same time, an infringement on the administering power’s control?”
The representative of Argentina stressed that the resolution should be in line with the previous resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly and the Special Committee on Decolonization.
It was unclear what was meant by this position.
Following that, the Committee took up draft resolution VI, on the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands approving it without a vote.
But will the provisions be implemented?
Speaking in explanation after the vote, the representative of the United Kingdom said that his delegation had joined consensus on the last resolution, which reflected its full support for the right to self-determination. However, his delegation regretted the outdated approach of the “Committee of 24” (Special Committee on Decolonization), which failed to take full account of the way that the relationship between the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories had been modernized in a way acceptable to both parties. The resolution did not fully reflect that modern relationship, he said, and the United Kingdom did not accept the assertion that self-determination did not apply where there existed a sovereignty dispute.
This was a repetition of the statement from previous years.
The representative of Argentina expressed full support for the right of people who were still subjected to colonization, and for the right to self-determination of the 11 Territories in the resolution just adopted. At the same time, as had been expressed in a letter to the Secretary-General distributed on 7 July. the annual resolution adopted by the General Assembly on the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands, and the considerations contained therein, were strictly related to the Territories referred to in those questions. The question of the Malvinas Islands was subjected to separate treatment in specific resolutions that gave due consideration to the special and particular features inherent in it, which were derived from the existence of a sovereignty dispute between the Argentine Republic and the United Kingdom.
The Committee next approved draft resolution VII on dissemination of information on decolonization by a recorded vote of 150 in favour to 3 against (France, United Kingdom, United States) with 1 abstention (France).
Speaking in explanation of vote, the United Kingdom’s representative said his delegation had voted against the text because it remained of the view that the obligation it placed on the Secretariat to disseminate information represented an unwarranted drain on the Organization’s resources. As such, the resolution was unacceptable to the United Kingdom.
The representative of Argentina said his delegation wished to express support for the right of self-determination. Despite that, the text should be interpreted and implemented in keeping with pertinent General Assembly resolutions and the various resolutions and statements of the Special Committee on Decolonization, which recognized the existence of a sovereignty dispute between his country and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas Islands.
(Everything appears to be seen through the prism of the Malvinas sovereignty dispute).
Next, the Committee approved draft resolution VIII on the implementation of the (Decolonization) Declaration by a vote of 152 in favour to 3 against (Israel, United Kingdom, United States), with 2 abstentions (Belgium, France).
Speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, the representative of Argentina stressed that, regarding operative paragraph 7, visiting missions proceeded only in cases where self-determination was applicable, specifically those for which there was no sovereignty dispute.
(Everything appears to be seen through the prism of the Malvinas sovereignty dispute).
The representative of the United Kingdom said his delegation had voted “no” because it continued to find some parts of the text unacceptable.
(Which parts, may we ask?)
Nevertheless, the Government of the United Kingdom remained committed to modernizing its relationship with its Overseas Territories, while taking fully into account the views of the peoples of the Territories.
(The usual refrain...).
Following that, the representative of Guinea said that his delegation had intended to vote in favour of draft resolutions I, II and III, and requested that that be duly noted in the record.
Singapore’s representative said that his delegation had wished to vote in favour of the resolutions pertaining to item 35, on information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter, and on item 36, on economic and other activities which affect the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The representatives of Pakistan and Chile said that their delegations had wanted to vote in favour of resolutions concerning item 35, and item 37, on implementation of the (Decolonization) Declaration by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations. The representatives of Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso said they had wished to vote in favour of the resolutions concerning item 35.
On 3rd October, OTR wrote that “how the United Nations deals with decolonization has become “a sterile exercise, a game of pretense played to avoid what is meant to be achieved." We indicated that we would “nevertheless… cover the 2009 session of the Fourth Committee, not because we harbor any illusions that the process will change, but rather because our readership demands to be kept abreast.”
In any event, the General Assembly will take the final vote in December. We'll be there...